Televised sports are a mixed blessing. It’s great to be able to see the games, but the fans who actually go to the games are given short shrift as leagues and teams submit to the wishes of the television networks.
We’ve seen an example this week with baseball’s league championship series. Traditionally, there have been “travel days” during these series, even when the teams were in nearby cities, but now, there are off days even when the team isn’t traveling. There were off days this week in the middle of the three-game series in Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
Baseball has always been the sport least likely to follow form in the postseason because requirements change. During the season, it’s important for teams to keep an even keel through highs and lows and to have a deep pitching staff. In the postseason, the team which is on a hot streak often wins, and teams don’t have to use their fifth starters.
This new schedule distorts the game even more because, with the off days, a team really needs to use only its top three starters.
Baseball already has too long a season, which is the fault of those running the sport. Unlike football, which can be and has been played in near-arctic weather conditions, baseball is not a sport which can be played well in cold weather. Pitchers, hitters and fielders all need warm, dry hands to play well. When it starts raining, baseball games are stopped. Football games continue even when it’s snowing.
Now, television is acerbating the problem by playing games at night, when it’s colder. Not incidentally, it’s also harder for the fans, especially when games are played in cities like New York and Philadelphia.
No sport has less concern for the paying customers, though, than college football, and you can see the results locally at Stanford.
In the ’60s and ’70s, college football thrived at Stanford. The base crowd was 60,000 for the least attractive games. Most crowds were in the 70,000 range, swelling to 80,000 and even 90,000 for the biggest games. All the games started at 1 p.m. and fans would come early for tailgates — and have time after the game to finish their tailgates.
Now, Stanford has a new, downsized stadium which seats 50,000 but is filled only when opposing teams like USC, Notre Dame and Cal bring large contingents of fans. There are many reasons for this, but a large one is the fact that games are played at different times, depending on the needs of TV networks. Stanford fans can no longer plan their fall around dependable starting times.
The NFL does much better by its customers because the vast majority of their games are on Sunday afternoons, so fans can plan their autumn-winter schedules.
But the NFL still holds to its archaic policy of home blackouts if games are not sold out, despite ample evidence that this does nothing to promote attendance. If fans can afford the ticket prices and don’t have health issues, they want to be at the games. Football televises very well, but the telecasts don’t transmit the excitement of being at the game.
Television executives are always going to try to get what’s best for them, but pro leagues and the NCAA need to pay more attention to the needs of their paying customers.